`Ostforschung`. Beobachtungen zu Aufstieg und Niedergang eines geschichtswissenschaftlichen Paradigmas

Eduard Mühle


How do images, notions and ideas of historic events, contexts and structures influence the life of social groups and national communities? To what extent does history work as an argument in particular social or political contexts at different times? These key questions raised on the 41. German Historikertag in September 1996 provided a welcomed opportunity to reinforce the discussion about the aims, concepts and effects of the German Ostforschung that had been initiated a few years before. Scheduled in section 25 of the Historikertag on the initiative of the Herder-Institut at Marburg, the critical debate about this specific approach to Eastern Central European history was intended to illuminate the phenomenon of its self-instrumentalization and outside implementation on the basis of the "images and notions" of Polish history it had created and disseminated. Referring to the introduction to that section, the present study discusses the term Ostforschung, its genesis and transformation as an expression for a specific research paradigm whose main features are strong political implications, a limited point of view centred on the German factor as the only decisive force in Eastern Central European history, as well as a self-set demand for methodical innovation, which, however, was never fully realized. The study traces the institutional and programmatic development of this historical school of thought from the 1920s to the 1970s. Aspects of content, i. e. the historical Images and notions of the Ostforschung as such, and thus the question of its actual achievements in the Single fields of the subject, are not treated in detail. Being part of the other papers concerned with Polish history read in the section, these issues will be dealt with in the subsequent contributions.